Ministry rolls out dam projects to boost food production

President Uhuru Kenyatta (right) is taken through a model of the Thiba Dam project by Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru during it's ground breaking ceremony in Kirinyaga County on November 24, 2017. The water from the dam will be beneficial to rice farmers in the county. PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • The idea is to increase the volume of water for irrigation and correct the blunders made in previous schemes.
  • While Kenya is largely regarded as an agricultural nation, the country has been producing below its capacity.

The government has rolled out a 57-dam project which, it says, is central to its plans to ensure there is sufficient food in the country.

The idea is to increase the volume of water for irrigation and correct the blunders made in previous schemes, including the Galana-Kulalu Food Security Project.

Its failure was blamed on inadequate water.

Food security is among President Uhuru Kenyatta’s four key agenda items during his second five-year term.

The other items are the provision of universal health care, affordable housing and manufacturing.

The Head of State has already launched the construction of at least two mega dams in the Rift Valley region and Kirinyaga County.

There are plans to build 20 large and small-scale ones in other regions, including Mount Kenya and Nyanza.

While launching the Sh19 billion Thiba Dam project in Kirinyaga County in December, Mr Kenyatta said food security is critical to the Jubilee agenda.

“The water from the project will enable farmers to have two seasons of planting annually.

"On completion, the dam will help rice farmers in Mwea to double production from the current 80 tonnes to 160 tonnes annually,” Mr Kenyatta said.

The Water ministry told the Nation that it expects to have completed the construction of about 30 dams by 2019.

“At the moment, about five mega-dam projects and several other small ones are up and running and we hope that the numbers will increase as we move to the deadline,” the ministry’s communications director, Mr Kavaka Wambulwa, said.

While Kenya is largely regarded as an agricultural nation, the country has been producing below its capacity.

The situation has been blamed on poor agricultural practices as well as inadequate water for irrigation, a trend the government hopes to reverse through the construction of the dams.

Just this year, the government had to import about 330,000 bags of maize from Mexico to cushion the country against hunger after it fell short of its target.

The country consumes about 3.8 million bags of maize every month, but has consistently produced lesser bags due to poor rainfall and the recent invasion of farms in Rift Valley – the country’s food basket – by the Fall Armyworm.

This year, the ministry projected a harvest of about 37.9 million bags of maize, up from 36.9 million in the same period last year.

In their Jubilee manifesto, President Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto promised completion of work on the 57 dams currently under construction to increase water storage capacity as well as improve the availability of the commodity for human and livestock consumption and for irrigation.

The government has also said it wants to end the water supply shortage in Mombasa, Kwale, Kilifi and Taita-Taveta counties by completing the Mwache Dam and Mzima 2 Pipeline projects that will boost supply in the Coast region.

But the projects have been marked by controversy as a result of land disputes, court injunctions and opposition from politicians, who have described some of the projects as a ploy to starve the residents of water in rivers.

For instance, the construction of the Itare Dam in Ndoinet, Nakuru County, is behind schedule after residents complained that it was an environmental hazard.

The tender for its construction was awarded to an Italian company in 2014.

National Super Alliance leader Raila Odinga, who has waded into the controversy, said the project would dry up rivers flowing into Nyanza and parts of the Rift Valley region.

But the ministry has defended the project, saying it will go a long way in improving water supply.

Mr Wambulwa said court injunctions and land compensation disputes are some of the major challenges facing mega-dam projects by the government.

“The challenge we have been facing is that you start construction and the work ends up stalling because of challenges such as court injunctions as well as resistance from residents and politicians.

"Without these challenges, the projects would be completed on time,” he added.

The other project is the Sh6.8 billion Northern Water Collector Tunnel, whose construction Mr Odinga has opposed, saying it would turn parts of the country into a desert.


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